To create an effective blog and generate a steady online income, you have to spend a little money. This is something I wish I’d realised years ago rather than struggling using every second-rate free tool I could find. Some free tools are great, sure, we use many here, but the premium versions are often mind-blowingly better. Some of the plugins and tools below are free, others are premium and will cost you a few dollars. I’m not going to tell you to rush out and buy them all today because if you don’t understand why you need them and how you will use them, you probably won’t use them just yet. These are suggestions, the tools we use and love, bookmark it and keep it handy, I will update it regularly. Very new bloggers won’t even know that you need tools such as these, those with a little experience may be ready to switch to a top-end premium plugin. We hope you find this list useful in figuring out which tools and plugins you need to help with your WordPress blog and in growing your social presence and income.
Best Tools and Plugins to Help New Bloggers Grow
Great Hosting and SSL Certification ( HTTPS)
I can’t recommend Site Ground hosting highly enough, they are by far the best we’ve tried, their customer support is prompt, expert and free and right now you have another reason to move to Site Ground, they will move your existing http site to https with just one click. This service is also free, elsewhere you will pay for that SSL Certification.
Google are now saying they will penalise sites that don’t shift to https, so, like it or not, it’s time to move. Site Ground will handle the transfer from your old host and it shouldn’t cost you a thing. We’re in love with Site Ground, we’ve never had a problem they didn’t fix promptly. Their operatives also have lovely manners.
UPDATE: This site is now with a premium, managed hosting company, Performance Foundry. I had no problem with Site Ground, they’re still superb and all of my other sites are still there, but this site earns enough for me to be able to pay them $125/month for a top notch product and a guy to manage my hosting needs for me. It was a very smart move and brought huge improvements across the board.
Social Shares that Won’t Disappear: Social Warfare
Free in basic form. Paid form is much better.
Social Warfare buttons, static, floating, horizontal or vertical
You may have noticed a while ago that you lost most or all of your Twitter shares from your existing Social Shares plugin. Social Warfare can get them back for you and will keep them safe when you move from http to https.
Social Warfare is fast, looks slick and is packed with top-level options. You can specify designated images for social media and for Pinterest, no more defaulting to your featured image. You can also pimp the standard Tweet from your Twitter share button, adding hashtags and killer hooks. Social and Pinterest shares get their own custom text. This premium plugin is packed with features and is an absolute joy to use. Click here to check out Social Warfare for your site.
Just some of the customisation options in Social Warfare
Backup With Blog Vault
For 5 years I’ve had no backup at all other than my host’s and never had a problem. I’ve just bought and installed Blog Vault because it’s recommended by my host. It’s under $100 per year and ultra simple to set up. Affiliate link to BlogVault here. I can’t say if it’s good or not, it’s one of those things you expect to never need, but if Performance Foundry recommend it, I do as they say.
Pinterest Scheduling: Tailwind or Board Booster
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Changes at Pinterest mean I NO LONGER USE ANY SCHEDULING TOOL FOR PINTEREST. I’m back to manual pinning only, using a spreadsheet after both Board Booster and Tailwind stopped working for me. When I stopped using Tailwind I saw no drop in Pinterest traffic at all, and got rid of a big fat time-suck. I DO still have a Board Booster account ( join Board Booster here, free trial I believe), because for $5 a month I find their tools and Analytics invaluable. I use Board Booster to clean up my huge group boards and to see at a glance which group boards ( and my own boards) have the best repin rate and therefore I should be targetting . If you’d like to read more on how I’ve got my Pinterest clicks back up after years of depressed traffic, see this post.
Free trial of 100 pins.
I used Board Booster for years and loved it. I tried Tailwind twice and didn’t like it one bit. Pinterest is our number 1 traffic source and lately our numbers started slipping. I realised that Board Booster just wasn’t doing it any more and gave Tailwind a third try.
I have a full post on using Pinterest to drive traffic, here.
Keyword Research Long Tail Pro or Keysearch
$1 1 week trial on Longtail Pro
2 free keyword searches per day on Keysearch
Keyword research is the thing everyone asks me about because nobody seems to understand it. I find it absolutely essential, particularly when trying to make money from new blogs with lower DA ( domain authority). The trick is to find a keyword ( a keyword isn’t necessarily 1 word, it’s a phrase, a so-called long tail keyword, 4 words plus) that receives a decent amount of searches in Google, but that hasn’t been used by all the top-level blogs and websites.
Tools such as Long Tail Pro and Keysearch give you search volume for your chosen keyword and, at the same time, give you a score as to how competitive that keyword is. The lower the score, the more chance a smaller site has in ranking for that term.
I’ve tried Longtail Pro and Keysearch, they both do the same thing, the price is similar, I personally prefer Longtail and use it myself almost every day. If you’ve heard Longtail no longer works, that’s not true, it’s actually better now than it ever was. I’m an affiliate for Long Tail Pro, I could just as easily be an affiliate for Keysearch, I believe Long Tail is the better tool. Click through here to give it a try and get a discount from us. I pay $25.90 per month for Longtail.
These tools are great but they’re fairly expensive. Only invest if you’re serious about generating traffic and income through SEO. It’s easy to destroy your love of blogging by taking tactics such as these too seriously. I don’t research the keywords for every post, some I write out of love purely because I want to document and share that time I hiked to Tengboche with D or an amazing guest house we stayed in and want you to know about. If you take blogging too seriously it (and your blog) becomes boring and a chore, and none of us wants that, right?
Struggling to Come Up With Keyword Ideas?
Check Your Domain Authority
Check your Domain Authority here. DA updates roughly once a month and is an approximate indicator of your site’s authority. It is a score out of 100, the higher the better.
You can find out when the next DA update is due here. It updated today February 28 2017.
Easy Placement of Ads of Any Kind Throughout Your Site: Advanced Ads
Advanced Ads changed how I thought about Adsense completely. I started out hand coding single adsense ads into individual posts, it was time-consuming and I was only making cents per day. A blogger friend told me about Advanced Ads years into my blogging career and bang, huge income increase. The Advanced Ads Pro plugin allows you to place ads ( for anything, not just adsense) in every post and page of your blog from a single interface. You can choose each advert’s location and exclude certain categories or individual posts should you choose to. Immediately my Adsense income skyrocketed and was my biggest income for quite a while.
Make Money from Amazon Internationally: Easy Azon
Absolutely essential for localising your Amazon links ie. make money from more than 1 country’s Amazon
This allows me to make money from Amazon UK, USA, Canada, Europe etc. Simultaneously. It also makes Amazon advert creation super easy and guides you through the process of registerring as an international Amazon affiliate. Check out Easy Azon Pro here.
Collect Your International Amazon Earnings: Payoneer Card
A Payoneer account and card is ( was) the only way ( Update: Transferwise now do this too) to access Amazon affiliate commissions from countries other than your own, generally, other than cheque by post or non-transferable Amazon credits. Your earnings are sent directly to your Payoneer account, from Amazon USA or from other affiliate schemes, you can then use the card as you would a pre-paid debit card. I’ve used it in the UK, Thailand and Romania, I’ve had no problem with it being accepted. Apply for your Payoneer account and card it’s free up front, you only start paying the small annual fee once you start earning.
A Graphic Design Tool to Edit, Create and Manipulate Images: Canva or PicMonkey
I use PicMonkey, which is free in its basic form and I find it great for all my image editing needs. Others prefer Canva, which can be linked to Tailwind for creating pins directly. I now have the paid “Royal” version of PicMonkey ($39.99 / year) which gives premium users access to pre-made editable templates as well as many of the more slick, fonts, overlays and effects.( I use their templates for the graphics on this page). If you have Photoshop, of course you can use that. I know and love PicMonkey, so I’m sticking with it. I think that if I was starting out I’d use Canva from the beginning.
A Tool to Reduce Image Size: Kraken Image Optimiser and/or WP Smush
Big image files slow your website. A plugin such as Kraken automatically reduces file size for each photograph you upload to your site, helping your site stay fast.
WP Smush plugin is free in trial form and allows you to retrospectively compress 50 images from Media Library per shot. On a big site like this one, with 3,000 images, that’s not practical, but the 14 day rial allows you to bulk Smoosh the whole lot. Running Kraken and WP Smush together DOES give better image compression.
Monitor Your Site Speed and Improve it, Google Page Speed Tool and Pingdom.
It’s vital to have a site that loads quickly as page speed is one of Google’s ranking factors.
Plugins to Improve Page Speed
WP Optimize, Autoptimize and Async Java Script are three excellent tools to speed up your site without code.
WP Optimize optimises your Word Press database, this includes removing all old spam comments and post revision data, it cleans it up and makes a big difference to page load speed in just a few clicks.
Autoptimize and Async Java Script minify Java Script and CSS files.
Make sure your site is cached on all levels and get Site Ground to add the code to Leverage Browser Caching.
If you possibly can, go for the best hosting you can. We pay a lot for managed hosting these days ( $125 per month). Site ground are fantastic, but our premium hosting was a good investment. ( See our host, Performance Foundry, here)
If you need more on improving site speed take a look here.
A Plugin to Display Related Content
You’ve seen a ” Related Posts” section at the end of most blog posts right? Well that’s generally done with a plugin.
The reason we use them is to help make our sites more “sticky”, to keep y0u, the reader, here longer.
We used YARPP ( Yet Another Related Posts Plugin) for years, it looked great but slowed my sites down. We’ve now switched to Related Posts for WordPress. You’ll see that at the end of this post. It’s faster. If you look in our side bar, at the bottom, you’ll see a Google Adsense ad that also includes some of our related content. It makes money and could potentially keep visitors on my site longer.
There’s a good post on best related posts plugins for 2017 here.
A Tool to Generate Tweets Around the Clock: Tweet Wheel
FREE in basic form
I’m rubbish at Twitter, absolutely hopeless. Twitter normally brings me about 10 clicks per day, compare that to up to 700/day from Pinterest. I don’t get it, I don’t enjoy it, but I’ve tried a lot of tools to improve my Twitter traffic. Since installing Tweet Wheel my Twitter traffic rose 300%, from 10 a day to 30 per day. Still terrible, but it’s an improvement. It’s worth you taking a look at if Twitter just isn’t where you want to be.
Tweet wheel automatically retweets all of your old posts, right round the clock. You can add hashtags, but they will be the same for every tweet. You can exclude posts by age or category and set your own time interval. I figure that if somebody clicks through to my site from Twitter, they must really be interested, so that 30 a day is worth having. If anyone can tell me how to not suck at Twitter with minimal effort, I’d love to know.
Update: Tweet Wheel caused a conflict with Easy Azon, so unfortunately it had to go. There are plenty of similar plugins to generate Tweets from old posts, but on the whole Buffer is a much better way to manage your Twitter content generation. Hootsuite is, in my experience, expensive and labour intensive.
Absolutely, in my experience, THE best tool for scheduling social media. I use it for Twitter, G+ and Facebook and for $10 per month it stores up to 100 posts in my queue. It’s fantastic and I’ll post more about it soon. It wins hands-down over Hootsuite Pro.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
I think most bloggers run Yoast. It’s a handy reminder of those SEO factors you may have skipped in your post. For instance, if you forgot to fill out your alt tags, or didn’t use your keyword in a subtitle, maybe you forgot to add a meta description, it will let you know. Find the Yoast SEO plugin here. It’s more than this, it’s a really useful all-round SEO tool, but don’t take it too seriously, stick with your own writing style.
Caching. You Need Caching!
A fast website ranks better in Google and caching helps with this. If you’re with Site Ground they have their own caching plugin and will handle it all for you. If not, the simplest caching plugin I’ve found is WP Fastest Cache. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, avoid W3 Total Cache, it’s a nightmare to set up and was way beyond me.
Find and Fix Broken Links
A Free Plugin to Check Load Speeds and Performance of All Your Plugins
If you run this free plugin now and again you can see which plugins are slowing down your site and think about replacing them. Jetpack is really bad for slowing things down, get away from it if you can. Take a look at P3 Plugin Performance Profiler
The first time I’ve run P3 in a year or so. Wow I need to get rid of Jetpack! I don’t think I even use it.
Changed Your Social Media Image but It’s not Showing on Facebook? Facebook Debugger
I use this all the time, totally free and an instant way to change the way Facebook displays your posts. Find Facebook Debugger here.
For you, for Pinterest
So, my lovely new blogger friends, is this helpful? It’s great for me to get some feedback, if I’m not telling you what you need to know just ask me in the comments or in our private Facebook group, Living Differently. What about you, any useful tools or plugins you think we should all know about?